Almost six years ago, Michael and I gathered with six other Catholic couples from our area for our very first Domestic Church circle meeting. Domestic Church is a movement for Catholic married couples and families that started more than 45 years ago in Poland. In December 2011, a couple in Lake Charles, Louisiana coordinated the first English-speaking Domestic Church marriage retreat in the world. Eight years later, there are 450 couples in 15 dioceses and nine states involved in Domestic Church here in the Unites States. In a nutshell, couples in Domestic Church meet monthly, nine months out of the year, with a “circle” of 4-6 other couples and a priest. They pray, share the past month’s joys and sorrows, and share ups and downs in their spiritual life based on seven humble commitments to prayer that couples spend a lifetime working on.
Michael and I realized the other day that we have now had Domestic Church in our marriage longer than we were married without it! We were married in 2008, and attended a Domestic Church marriage retreat in December of 2013. After our retreat, we began making calls and sending information to all of our friends and acquaintances in our parish to start a circle with us.
Our first meeting in February of 2014 was also the first Domestic Church meeting in the Diocese of Baton Rouge. Six years later, there are now 58 couples and seven priests involved in Domestic Church here in Baton Rouge. Michael and I are currently the diocesan coordinators. We also currently serve on the National Circle and facilitate marriage and family retreats. Our service together in the Domestic Church movement is something I never saw coming for us, but then isn’t part of the life of faith accepting and reveling in gifts we could never have dreamed up for ourselves?
There are so many ways that Domestic Church has helped my marriage, through the power of the Holy Spirit. It has facilitated personal and marital healing. It has helped us prayerfully (and more calmly!) navigate problems with our physical and emotional health, communication, work, parenting, relationships, intimacy and finances. It has been so helpful in communicating about and dealing with the stresses of these busy years of having babies and raising a large young family. I think Michael and I have done so much in service of Domestic Church because we continue to need it and want it so much for our marriage.
It’s not that this movement is perfect, or has the magic formula to heal or perfect every single Catholic marriage. Domestic Church is simply one avenue of intentionally and regularly drawing on the grace of this beautiful, difficult Sacrament. It’s about living an intentional marriage.
The gentle accountability, the commitments, the faith experiences as a couple and as a family, and the priority of all of those things in our life together—those are what has made all the difference for us. I think of Domestic Church partly like “Continuing Education for Married People.” Just like many fields of work and study have regular continuing education gatherings, community, and requirements, it’s been practical and helpful to have something like that for the vocation of marriage.
Daily personal prayer of some kind. Daily Scripture reading. Daily couple prayer. Daily family prayer. Monthly couple dialogue. Yearly marriage or family retreat. A rule of life for keeping your marriage and family centered on God. The Polish actually refer to these seven commitments as the “gifts” of Domestic Church.
Part of each monthly meeting is spent talking about how each couple is doing working on all of these. It’s not presenting a report card, or percentages of faithfulness. It’s sharing where the light of faith and the reality of daily life met in our home over the past month. It’s sharing obstacles and baby steps. The keep-on-keeping-on of shooting for the stars, but keeping our peace and trust in God when we humbly land a little lower. It’s talking about where God has provided, and where He’s still letting us figure it out. Where the commitments have truly been the gift to our marriage and family they’re meant to be. It’s where a small group of other couples and a dear priest friend know what’s really going on with us, behind the cheerful small talk that’s all we have time for with the majority of people we know.
The individual prayer commitments have been so good for Michael and me both. We help to support and hold one another accountable to growing in our faith and praying daily. Sometimes it’s Michael watching the kids for a few minutes while I pray in my room, or sometimes it can look like me sending Michael out the door to a men’s prayer group. We prioritize and protect one another’s faith life in a deep way now.
Developing a spiritual life together with my husband has been so wonderful. Couple prayer can still be hard, even after six years. It’s hard for lots of couples. But what a worthy and fruitful struggle! Every once in a while, there is a couple prayer time that brings me such comfort and peace—to speak to God and listen to Him in unity with my husband is such a gift and a desire of my heart. Our daily prayer as a couple doesn’t knock it out of the park every single day (not nearly!), but the faithfulness…that’s what counts. Even just an Our Father together at night–no matter how tired or angry we are–keeps problems in perspective. Our life is bigger than that fight, that situation, that stress. Because God is bigger than all of it, and because all of it has purpose and meaning into eternity through Jesus Christ. (And as a circle priest famously told me a few years ago when we were sharing that we managed “just an Our Father” most nights that month: “Don’t dis the Our Father! There’s everything in that prayer!”)
Even though Domestic Church is something we do for our marriage, our family has blossomed because of our involvement as well. Aside from the incredible gift (and challenge) of daily family prayer with our kids, the summer family retreats have become a treasured part of our children’s childhood. Every summer that we are able to go on a family retreat, it’s always the older children’s favorite memory of the year. The quality time as a family that we get on the retreats, coupled with beautiful faith experiences as a family and friendships with other families from all over the country, have been amazing.
Also, for Michael and me it’s invaluable to spend enough time around other Catholic families trying to live their faith out to see how other faith-filled couples deal with temper tantrums, kids in Mass, meal times and play times. How they treat their spouses. How they interact with their teens and adult children. How they pray. How they deal with stress. How they’re imperfect, too. How they struggle with this or that commitment as well. The community of the circle and of the family retreats really help to remind me that each and every marriage and family is different, and that the commitments look a little different for each family. Michael and I both have learned so much over the years about embracing the personality, needs, strengths and seasons of our own particular family with confidence and trust in God. As we look up to and meet beautiful families that we find are just as imperfect and “normal” as we are, it remind us that our own family really is beautiful, too, even though we often feel like a mess.
I could write so much about Domestic Church. How our family Rule of Life commitment has guided us to put vision down into practical rules of living that help us to manage stress, prioritize family time, live out our faith, and be proactive about issues like time management and media usage. How committing to reading Scripture in some way daily has been huge for Michael and me individually. How Couple Dialogue has helped us by the grace of God to work through some personal and marital issues over the past six years.
I’m just so thankful.
Some of you who read this may have Domestic Church in your diocese. Lucky you! If you don’t have it in your diocese yet, though, don’t shy away. Think about maybe attending a retreat near you, and see what God might speak to you and your spouse through the weekend. Michael and attended our first DC retreat on a full scholarship; we were going through financial difficulty at the time. Michael only went because I really, really wanted him to. At the time, we hadn’t really talked (without fighting) in a few weeks. But God made it through to us on at one point on our retreat, and we both heard Him, loud and clear: I want this for you. So we got to it, and six years later…God is blessing 57 other marriages and seven priests in our diocese. Leadership wasn’t something we set out to do–it just happened to be necessary in our case. I have met many other couples like Michael and me over the years who “found” Domestic Church and wanted it for their own marriage, and so they figured out how to garner interest at their parish or diocese.
Wherever you are in your life and your marriage, praise Him! For where we have been, where He has brought us, and where He will take us in the future. Part of the Good News is that this isn’t “as good as it’s gonna get.” He has plans for my marriage and for your life, too, plans for good and not for woe, plans to give us hope and a future. Maybe Domestic Church is in your future, and maybe it isn’t. But if you want more for your marriage—know that He does too. Ask Him what He has in mind for your particular marriage at this time. Please feel free to email me if you have questions. Check out the Domestic Church website, too. And have hope, because God wants a happy, healthy, holy life and marriage for you even more than you do.:)
May His peace be with you!